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A Quick Guide To Aperitivo

Updated on August 5, 2017
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I am an English-speaking, freelance food writer based in Rome and love writing articles on various aspects of Italian culture.

Classic Aperitivo with dry white wine.
Classic Aperitivo with dry white wine.

Happy Hour

From around 6 to 9 p.m., after a day at work having an Aperitivo to meet up with friends has become almost a ritual in Italy.

It is not to be confused with Antipasto, Hors d'oeuvre or English savouries this is a one course meal, consisting of a glass of wine, usually Prosecco, or a non-alcoholic drink accompanied with bruschetta, slices of toasted bread with a topping of fresh tomatoes, olive oil and salt, or simply flavored with garlic. Added to this list of items are slices of different dried meats, small pieces of cheese, olives and sometimes Pinzimonio.

This last item consists of raw vegetables. The word actually refers to the sauce of olive oil, salt and pepper in which the carefully cut raw vegetables such as sliced fennel, carrots, celery, radish are dipped and eaten with, small mini flatbread, called Pizzette.

Every bar or Enoteca, which is a sort if public wine cellar selling bottles of wine, but nowadays also offers glasses of wine, also offers a snack to compliment and accompany something to drink and they often offer their own plated versions.

Many neighbourhood cafes offer buffet style food as part of Happy Hour promotions. Both for young people and older folks this treat has become a quick way of having a cheap healthy diet friendly dinner, especially during the summer months when the August heat robs one of an appetite.


Antonio Benedetto Carpano
Antonio Benedetto Carpano | Source

Aperitivo a brief history

The popularity of this type of portioned food started back in 1786 when Antonio Benedetto Carpano invented Vermouth. Creating the drink was clever but selling it as a quasi medical herb-infused white wine was a stroke of genius. It proved hugely popular with women in Italy partly because there was a cultural stigma placed on female drinkers of stronger red wine and in part, the added herbs stimulated ones need to eat and it tasted surpringly good considering it was medicine. Anyway the food consumed could legitimately be seen as lining the stomach to stop the dinner becoming inebriated. In fact the word Aperitivo comes from the Latin Aperire or to open as in to open another bottle, Antonio certainly knew a thing or two about the drinks business.

Aperitivo Drinks

Over time and due to regional variations the type of food and drink for this quick meal have evolved with separate styles across Italy, the drinks though are designed to enhance the food, these are the main drinks to be found across Italy.

  • Frizzanti It really refers to any chilled dry fizzy white wine that compliments the food on offer, Prosecco is popular.
  • Aperol Spritz In 1919 the Italian drinks manufacturer Barbieri created Aperol made from bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and cinchona. It has become hugely popular often served as a Spritz with added fizzy water.
  • Campari Soda With Its bright red colour, it is designed to stimulate appetite an alcoholic or non-acholic bitter.
  • Pirlo popular in Brescia, in the Lombardia region, white wine added to Aperol.
  • Rossini a mashed strawberry and Prosecco cocktail
  • Negroni first created in the city of Florence, it is made by mixing Bitter Campari, Cinzano Vermouth and a shot of Gin and sometimes other spirits.
  • San Pellegrino a non-acholic alternative, a mineral water manufacturer that bottles mixed water to fruit juice drinks.

Aperitivo  drink Aperol Spritz
Aperitivo drink Aperol Spritz

Aperifritti preparation

A small fried fish bar with Aperitivo sized portions
A small fried fish bar with Aperitivo sized portions | Source

Friggitorie and Aperifritti.

Friggitorie are restaurants that specialise in frying and are most commonly found in Naples where one can have additional different fried specialities including fried pizza. These are also well known in the grand cities of Genoa and Palermo where they first became popular.

Many cafes and restaurants have taken the Italians love for fried food and given it a modern twist, creating a new food genre with a clever play on words, in this case, Aperifritti.

Technically the process involves octopus, prawns and small whitebait fish being dipped in a flour batter and cooked in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. It is then placed on fat absorbent paper rolled into a distinctive cone shape and served with long pointed wooden skewers and a slice of lemon.

"Anche una suola di scarpa quando e' fritta e' buona"

— "Even a shoe tastes good when it’s fried" Old Italian Saying.

Apericena

You may hear the word Apericena which in fact means: instead of dinner and refers to a larger buffet style dinner eaten between friends where no food is cooked but all items are bought straight from a local pizzeria or local shops. It is common for bars and some restaurants to offer this style on a budget, where one can have a drink and food from a prepared ready buffet, it is generally more substantial too.

Apericena dining between friends typical in Rome.
Apericena dining between friends typical in Rome.

The Beach and Aperifish

A favourite place to eat is via beach restaurants to experience the smell of the sea with a romantic view of the sunset. It is now a popular evening activity during the summer where beach bars that are known as Stabilimento offer a luxurious buffet to evening guests accompanied by drinks and music.

Travel Tip: Beyond the city, of Rome, the seaside towns of Ostia, Terracina and Fiumicino offer a range of the best Aperifish freshly caught locally you could possibly try!.

Beach bar heaven
Beach bar heaven

Slow Food

Part of the reason the Aperitivo has remained popular is the growth of The Slow Food movement in Italy. It is a popular movement that rejects fast food in favour of locally sourced fresh quality food. The venerable Aperitivo in some respects resembles a restaurant tasting menu with small quantities of high-quality food available to tempt the dinner.

Its popularity predates the emergence of more modern Amuse-bouche and the use of non-menu items served by restaurants involved in the Nouvelle Cuisine movement. Like Spanish Tapas here this small meal is the meal rather than a preliminary course to a larger three-course dining experience.

For the traveller to Italy deciding to eat an Aperitivo meal is a great way to try a variety of local food on a budget. A sunset over Rome and a good Aperativo spot.
For the traveller to Italy deciding to eat an Aperitivo meal is a great way to try a variety of local food on a budget. A sunset over Rome and a good Aperativo spot.

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